What is unschooling?

FOX21: Aly Myles

Just like choosing between public or private, chartered or unchartered schools, there’s many decisions that go along with deciding to home school children.

“I think if you asked a home schooling family how they do it, it’d be different for each of their children because all children are different,” Yvonne Padilla, director of Mountain Vista Home School Academy, said.

As director of the Academy, Padilla said she’s seen success stories with every type of home schooling families. They range from the very strict ones, who follow the curriculums verbatim, to parents who let their children choose what they want to learn that day.

The latter are commonly known as “unschoolers.” 

“Some parents believe life experiences are where they gain their knowledge, so they expose their children to lots of activities, normal day activities where they teach them their math, their social studies, their history,” Padilla said. “Whereas other parents are very regimented.”

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Jo Ann Schneider-Farris is a mother of three children: 17-year-old Joel, 15-year-old Rebekah and 12-year-old Annabelle. She’s been home schooling her children since Joel was 5 after pulling him from a kindergarten class at a public school.

“We went through a period where we looked at the online public schools, and they weren’t for us,” Schneider-Farris said. “I even went through a period where I was really against public schools, and Mountain Vista Home School Academy really changed that and I saw they did have some great things to offer.”

All three of the Schneider-Farris students are considered unschoolers because they choose what they want to learn, but they do attend class at the Academy one day a week. It’s part of an enrichment program where kids from 1st to 12th grade come for activities that don’t interfere with their curriculum: English, art, history, critical thinking, technology and science.

“The students are home schooled for whatever reason their parents choose,” Padilla said. “I just think it’s about understanding that all parents should be able to choose what they feel is best for their children without judgment as long as their kids are being educated.”

When the Schneider-Farris children aren’t at the Academy, however, much of their day is spent at the World Arena Ice Hall. Joel, Rebekah and Annabelle are all nationally-ranked ice skaters who spend three to four hours a day, five to six days a week on the ice.

“It’s funny because a lot of the other skaters here are home schooled because they’re skaters,” Jo Ann said. “We’re home schooled first and skaters second.”

Jo Ann tends to be less regimented with Annabelle’s curriculum than Joel or Rebekah. Annabelle likes to research what she wants to learn and tell her mother which workbooks she’d like to buy. Recently, she asked for an algebra workbook.

“Well, I do a lot of research on stuff and if I like the thing I researched, I want more of it. So I’ll order books on it, and I read about them and do workbooks on them,” Annabelle said.

When asked what she does when there’s something she doesn’t want to learn about, Annabelle smiled, “I still have to do that.”

Jo Ann admits that there are flaws with the idea of unschooling.

“We’re struggling with math. Joel really doesn’t like math, and I’m kind of hoping it’ll balance out,” Jo Ann said. “I think a lot of the home-schoolers’ mentality is hoping things will work out and take care of themselves.”

Joel, a senior, is currently looking into colleges for next year and is considering Colorado College for a medical-related major.

“It’s like 15 minutes from my house. I grew up at the rink there. I’ve been there a long time,” Joel said. “It’s basically a place I grew up in.”

Rebekah said she enjoys looking up colleges and thinking about where she wants to go. But, for right now, she said she’s content with the way her life is.

“Everyone has times when they wish they had someone else’s life, but I think what I do is great, and I’m really happy with it,” Rebekah said. “So, no, I wouldn’t change it at all.”

All three Schneider-Farris children said the only problem they have with being home schooled is the stereotypes that follow it.

“Home-schoolers aren’t weird,” Annabelle said.

“Home schooling doesn’t mean you just sit around at home and you don’t do anything,” Rebekah said. “You do a lot of schooling and you meet a lot of people. You make a ton of friends. It doesn’t mean you are socially inept. It’s just you do what you want more. You can do it with a schedule that fits with what you do in your life.”

According to Jo Ann, while unschooling might sound taboo, most of the families in the community who do home school should call themselves unschoolers.

“People don’t like to admit that they do unschooling because it sounds so weird, “Jo Ann said. “But I’d say we’re busier than half the kids going to a regular school.”

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